Patricia Chaney

Easy Ways to Accommodate Employees With Celiac Disease

Eating gluten-free is a common dietary choice, but for a small percentage of people, it’s a necessity. Gluten can cause serious distress for people with celiac disease. Unfortunately, the recent dietary craze surrounding gluten may make it easier to dismiss people trying to avoid the ingredient.

If you have employees with celiac or a gluten intolerance, they need to avoid most packaged breads and baked goods. That can make company gatherings feel a little isolating, since these employees may feel left out or worry about seeming rude for rejecting a slice of a colleague’s birthday cake.

A little understanding goes a long way toward making sure all of your employees have options. Here’s how to host a catered meeting, party or other event with creative alternatives and naturally gluten-free foods that are healthy choices for everyone.

Understanding Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity

Although they have overlapping symptoms, celiac is very different from a gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease affects about 1% of the population, making it pretty rare. It causes gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue and other digestive symptoms. However, it’s not a gluten allergy, or even an allergy at all — it’s actually an autoimmune disorder. When someone with celiac ingests gluten, their body’s immune system recognizes it as a harmful foreign invader and attacks it. This immune reaction is what causes symptoms. People with the disease must avoid gluten entirely or risk long-term health problems.

Another reported issue is gluten intolerance, called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It’s not an allergic response either, but the immune system isn’t the issue, as it is with celiac. There’s no test for this intolerance. Actually, doctors haven’t all agreed that it’s a medical condition. Despite this, people with a sensitivity experience digestive issues similar to celiac when they eat foods with gluten, and the symptoms go away when they avoid those foods. To stay on the safe side, doctors often recommend these people avoid the ingredient.

How to Make Accommodations at Work

Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains. It’s also added to many breads, cakes and cookies. When company gatherings center on a big cake or pizza, it’s harder for someone with celiac or an intolerance to find something to eat. Not all your employees want gluten-free bread or rice pasta, though. So, how do you accommodate everyone?

A few mindful changes keeps everyone included.

  • Order meat and cheese trays. For people with celiac, taking the bread off the sandwich may not be enough to avoid a reaction. Rather than providing pre-made subs for your next work lunch, keep the meat and cheese separate from the bread and let employees who want sandwiches make their own.

  • Include salads at lunches and gatherings. If you’re ordering pizza or subs from a local restaurant or having a catered meal, include salads with your order. Your employees who are trying to make healthier food choices will thank you as well.

  • Cater Mexican food. Corn, beans, meat and vegetables are all gluten-free, making Mexican food a great option for company parties.

  • Opt for quinoa. Not all grains contain gluten. Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and makes a great side dish for company picnics.

  • Offer alternative treats. At birthday parties, try skipping the traditional cake and instead bring chocolate-dipped fruit, fudge, flourless baked goods or a basic ice cream flavor such as strawberry, vanilla or chocolate to celebrate.

  • Provide healthier snacks. Include nuts, dried fruit and fresh produce as office snacks. Many healthy snacks that help employees reach their wellness goals are also naturally gluten-free.

For potluck meals, office birthdays, special events and other occasions where employees may contribute their own dishes, encourage your staff with gluten sensitivities to bring their favorite food. Remind any office chefs to label what ingredients they used.

There are many ways to show your employees that you take their health seriously. Though it’s empowering to see large-scale changes in how your employees act and feel through internal support and a strong wellness program, helping meet the everyday needs of your staff demonstrates your commitment to every aspect of a healthy workplace.

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